Cutting out the fat by talking on the phone?

QUEENSLAND doctors believe health professionals can tackle the state's obesity epidemic over the telephone.


The Australian Medical Association Queensland believes initiatives outlined in its Health Vision policy could make overweight and obese Queenslanders, on average, up to 5% slimmer by 2020.

In a submission to a parliamentary committee investigating telehealth and web-based technologies for health promotion, President Dr Shaun Rudd pointed to a Californian program for pediatric patients with weight issues.

He said about 80% of patients were satisfied with their telehealth appointment, saying they felt comfortable and that their privacy was protected.

"We believe there is value in Queensland Health establishing a multidisciplinary team comprised of dieticians, exercise physiologists and specialist bariatric services whose primary purpose is to consult on chronically obese patients," he said.

"Based in Brisbane, this team would be available state-wide to help consult on patients who have been referred to the service by their regular GP and who need some extra help losing weight."

The AMA's Lighten Your Load campaign highlighted the issue of obesity in rural and regional Queensland, where on average 67% of people are considered overweight or obese.

"The obesity 'unnatural disaster' is sinister in its creeping approach and risks crippling our health system in the future," Dr Rudd said.

"By 2020, Queensland Health estimates that three million Queenslanders are expected to be overweight or obese.

"AMA Queensland believes that telehealth is an important tool that can be used to help alleviate pressures on the medical workforce, increase health system capacity and improve patient outcomes for the better."


By 2020, three million Queenslanders are expected to be overweight or obese.
By 2020, three million Queenslanders are expected to be overweight or obese. Thinkstock

Social marketing researcher Rebekah Russell-Bennett believes SMS, smartphone apps, gamification, online and mobile games, online quizzes and other tech tools can be used in the government's plan for personal health interventions.

But the Queensland University of Technology professor, who will talk in the committee hearing today (on Wednesday), said in her group submission that helping people lead healthier lives would take more than fancy smartphone apps.

Ms Russell-Bennett said the government must understand the difference between health promotion - which provides practical information on how to lose weight and nutrition guidelines - and social marketing - which monitors heart-rate and daily steps, links people to gym buddies or other socially active people, and simulates a behaviour, like a wii game for exercise.

"The technologies need to complement the other approaches of education and policy/law and sit alongside service delivery," the submission read.

Diabetes Queensland acting chief Jen Egan said diabetes was the largest cause of preventable hospitalisations in the state and believed telephone and web services could help.

She noted 77% of Australian households now had broadband internet, that while women were more likely to use the internet for health-related activities, a large proportion of men also used the internet for this purpose.

But Ms Egan feared there was a risk of a crowded market place where "consumers are overwhelmed with services and find it challenging to find the right program to suit their needs".

"While there is huge potential for these approaches, caution needs to be taken in applying them in isolation as they are unlikely to meet the needs of all Queenslanders and are unlikely to achieve sustained behaviour change unless they are supported by other initiatives," she said.

"Given Queensland's population distribution and communications capabilities in regional areas, web-based technology should not be exclusively used as this could exclude people in need of the services.

"Additionally, age and comfort with technology should be considered."

University of Queensland professor Elizabeth Eakin said NSW's Get Healthy Service was evidence supporting telephone-delivered interventions.

"The service has had good penetration among disadvantaged, regional and remote communities and among those most at risk for chronic disease," she said.

"Outcomes achieved by completers of the six-month coaching program have been impressive: 56% lost between 2.5% - 10% of their initial body weight (an amount consistent with improved disease prevention outcomes); there was a 32% increase in the numbers consuming the recommended serves of fruit; a 27% improvement in those consuming the recommended vegetable serves; and a 28% improvement in the numbers meeting physical activity guidelines.

"These are truly exceptional outcomes for a population-wide health promotion service that to date, has seen nearly 40,000 Australians register."

The inquiry is scheduled to hear from 11 people today.

The committee must report back to parliament by June 12.

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